Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reasons for Everything

It is sometimes very easy to believe that life, and by association the God that oversees all life, is random. Oh, sure, we may not say it quite that way-- we might just say that we ran into some extra income this month because of our "good luck". Or maybe something difficult, like the loss of a home or a tragedy within our family, is "just how life goes sometimes". If we do recognize our blessings or our burdens as such, we will often generalize them as something that will "bless us" or "make us stronger"-- somehow, some way, some day.

The house of God is a house of order; His plan for each of us was established well before we were wildly successful, before we were laid off from work, and before we were ever overwhelmed with unexpected financial obligations. Though he operates on a higher level (see Isaiah 55:8-9), we can take comfort in the organization and reasoning behind divine action. There is always a reason.

The Lord outlines his reasoning for the timing and methods for the Restoration in Doctrine and Covenants section 1. Here we can see how intentional the Lord is about what He does. The solution of the Restoration began with a problem:

For [the people] have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall (D&C 1:15-16).

The Lord responded to the apostasy and idolatry mentioned by calling upon Joseph Smith, speaking to him and giving him commandments that would lead to the full restoration of the gospel. The Lord doesn't stop there. In a unique way, the Lord goes on to explain in this introductory section of the Doctrine and Covenants why he spoke to Joseph Smith and gave him commandments. He gives at least these five reasons: 1) so the words of the prophets might be fulfilled; 2) so every man may speak in the authority of Christ; 3) to increase faith in the earth; 4) to establish the everlasting covenant; and 5) so the fulness of the gospel may be proclaimed to the ends of the world (D&C 1:17-23).

As if that weren't enough explanation, the Lord further explains his methodology of using the weak to teach the strong. The weak are previously mentioned as the ones that will fulfill prophecy and the ones that will proclaim the gospel to the ends of the world and before kings and rulers; the Lord explains why in verses 24-28. Again, there are five reasons: 1) so they might come to understanding; 2) to allow their errors to be known; 3) so they may be instructed; 4) so they may be chastened to repentance; and 5) so they can be made strong and be blessed according to their own humility.

In a single page of scripture, the Lord explains his reasons and methodologies for the Restoration on a relatively deep level. He called upon Joseph Smith to fulfill prophecy, to return the faith, covenants and authority to the earth that would allow each of us to overcome the problems of the world around us, and to spread knowledge of all these things around the world. He chose Joseph Smith and others because of their weakness; the mold-ability of the humble through understanding, instruction and some chastisement allows them to become strong, blessed of heaven and forever learning and progressing.

There is a reason for everything. Though we may not always know why things happen the way they do, we can have faith that the Lord knows why things happen as they do. Because everything happens for a reason, we may know even in uncertain times that all things will give us experience and be for our good (D&C 122:8). As Joseph Smith, if we will remain humble, the Lord will use our circumstances to make us strong, blessed of heaven and able to learn and progress forever (Ether 12:27).

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What You Think of You

Anyone in need of an uplifting half-hour should search out the weekly broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Music and the Spoken Word. This week, the message was delivered by Lloyd D. Newell. He shared:

Life, in this world, can be hard on anyone. We hear and see things that are discouraging, even disheartening, and at times we may feel dismayed about the state of the world and the condition of our own lives. Yes, life can be hard.

But within us, deep down in our heart of hearts, resides a sense of robust hope and sweet expectation that can lift us out of life’s fog to see clearly who we are and our capacities. We lift the fog every time we count our blessings, every time we are kind toward others, every time we seriously ponder life’s purposes. We lift life’s fog as we pause to listen to our heart.

Each one of us is here for a reason, a purpose that may sometimes get lost in life’s heartaches and disappointments. Who are you really? Why are you here at this time and this place? What can you do to make a difference in someone’s life? How can you truly look into your heart?

"What you think of you is what finally matters,” wrote one observer. "When you look in the bathroom mirror in the morning, the court is open for business. And you are the jury and the judge on the case" 
(Robert Fulghum, What on Earth Have I Done? (2007), 5).

Thinking of yourself as someone capable and worthy of good things sets positive change into motion. Quietly, your heart begins to change. You then begin to see and think and feel that your life can be good—despite life’s heartaches. Listen to that small voice in your heart that whispers to you the power to change, the potential for happiness, and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that what you think of you matters.

Positive self-image is empowering because we begin to see ourselves as our Heavenly Father sees us; that is, we begin to see ourselves as we really are. Elder Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, "Who are we? We are children of God. Our potential is unlimited. Our inheritance is sacred."

What you think of you matters. We will find the greatest happiness when those thoughts are based on the unchanging truths of our relationship to God and our ability to do all things in and through our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Always Remember Him

Every Sunday as we attend our ward sacrament meeting, we hear two prayers repeated word-for-word. The first is the prayer on the bread of the sacrament; the second for the water. In these prayers we find the covenant we accepted at baptism: we covenant to take the name of Christ upon ourselves, to always keep His commandments, and to always remember Him.

Or do we?

When I was a teacher at the Provo Missionary Training Center, I would read the sacrament prayers often with the missionaries. At least once during their 8-week stay, after agreeing upon the covenant as mentioned above, I would inquire how long the missionaries kept all of the commandments after they took the sacrament on any given week. Most often, we would agree that we usually didn't get through an entire day, sometimes not even out of church, without having some undisciplined thought or saying something regretful or doing something inconsistent with the commandments we had covenanted to keep. We agreed that our failure to keep the commandments could potentially break the agreement we had made, making our covenant void.

At this conclusion, I would challenge the missionaries with a question: "If, in reality, we don't always keep the commandments, and that jeopardizes the validity of our covenant," I'd ask, "what happens if I die on a Thursday?"

With some back-and-forth discussion, the missionaries insisting repentance overrides all individual shortfalls and me asking for evidence from the verse, one or more of the missionaries would always stumble upon a most interesting word in D&C 20:77. "It doesn't say that we'll always keep the commandments," they'd say, "but that we we will be willing to take upon us the name of Christ, willing to always remember Him and willing to always keep the commandments." We'd conclude that a willing attitude is a key to keeping our covenants. We may not always keep every commandment, but as long as we press forward and are always willing to keep them, we are keeping our covenant-- and that is something we can do from Sunday to Thursday to Sunday and on again from week to week.

Something that I didn't realize well enough to share with my missionaries was the way the sacrament prayers work together. The prayer over the bread does indeed emphasize willingness. It says that as we eat the bread in remembrance of the body of Christ, we witness that we are, "willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keeps his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them." If we are truly willing, we may have his Spirit with us always.

The prayer over the water, however, is not about willingness. It is not about trying, it is about doing-- but the requirements are slightly different. As we drink in remembrance of the Savior's atoning blood, we witness, "that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them."

First, we agree to be willing, to keep trying, and to press forward. Then, we agree that we will always remember our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Knowing how to always remember Him is a point of such importance that it has merited three talks from living apostles with nearly identical titles. In a 2009 address from Elder D. Todd Christofferson, we learn that three aspects of always remembering Christ include seeking to know and follow His will; recognizing and accepting our obligation to answer to Christ for every thought, word, and action; and living with faith and without fear so that we can always look to the Savior for the help we need.

Elder Oaks provided more examples of how we can always remember Him in an address given in 1988. Some of those examples include serving as called, forgiving others, receiving ordinances, enduring affliction, ministering to the sick and afflicted, and loving our neighbors.

In his 1999 CES fireside address, then-Elder Eyring taught:

The Master not only foresees perfectly the growing power of the opposing forces but also knows what it is like to be mortal. He knows what it is like to have the cares of life press upon us. He knows that we are to eat bread by the sweat of our brows and of the cares, concerns, and even sorrows that come from the command to bring children to the earth. And He knows that both the trials we face and our human powers to deal with them ebb and flow.
He knows the mistake we can so easily make: to underestimate the forces working for us and to rely too much on our human powers. And so He offers us the covenant to “always remember Him” and the warning to “pray always” so that we will place our reliance on Him, our only safety. It is not hard to know what to do. The very difficulty of remembering always and praying always is a needed spur to try harder. The danger lies in delay or drift.

If we are unsure how to always remember Him, Elder Eyring encouraged us to start by remembering Him. He pleaded with us to study and ponder the scriptures and to go to our Heavenly Father in prayer. As we learn to always remember Christ, we will always have his Spirit with us, we will have armor and protection against pride and undisciplined thoughts that may lead us astray. We will have strength that we will not drift and faith to do all things.

As we take the sacrament each week, we are reminded of the promises we have made to be willing to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, to be willing to keep his commandments at all times and in all places, and to always, always remember Him. As the ten-minute reminder concludes, the task to remember becomes our own. As we establish habits of scripture reading, prayer and blessing those around us, we can ensure that we will remember Him for the 10,000 minutes of each week spent outside of sacrament meeting.

And, best of all, we can have his Spirit to be with us. Always.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Heavenly Gift

Anyone who has read the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ has read that "faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true" (Alma 32:21). The prophet Moroni defined faith the same way. He said, "faith is things which are hoped for and not seen" (Ether 12:6). Moroni continues to say that faith is not verified until it is tried, but promises that those who persist in faith may partake of "the heavenly gift".

The gift to which Moroni refers can be found in a story told by Bishop Richard C. Edgley in 2008. Bishop Edgley told of meeting a Jewish coworker who had survived a Nazi concentration camp for the duration of World War II. As the Jewish man finished telling of his experiences of being torn from his family by Gestapo and enduring the atrocities of the camp, he paused for a moment, then asked Bishop Edgley, "Do you know what the most powerful force in the world is?"

Bishop Edgley recounts:

Without hesitation I answered, 'Love. Love conquers all. If only your persecutors had love for you and for their fellow man, you would not have suffered as you did.'

He responded, 'No, it is not love. All those years I was in the concentration camp, I had love. I had love for my mother, father, and sister. I had love for my grandmother. But that love did not sustain me. It did not keep me alive.' And then he said, 'Hope. Hope is the most powerful force. It was hope that kept me alive. It was hope that I would survive. It was hope for freedom. It was hope that I would someday be reunited with my loved ones" (BYU, 4 November 2008).

Ether taught that hope is the fruit of faith. He taught that "whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world". In turn, he continues, hope anchors the souls of men, making them, "sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God" (Ether 12:4).

Hope is the heavenly gift to which Moroni referred. The Atonement, he explains in Ether 12, "prepared a way that others might be partakers of the heavenly gift", or in other words, "that they might hope for those things which they have not seen" (Ether 12:8).

Before we can hope for something we have not seen, we must first believe in things we have not seen. Primarily, we must believe in Christ, the Son of God and our Savior, whom most of us have not seen with our physical eyes. Moroni reminds us that Ammon believed in missionary successes he had not yet seen, Alma and Amulek believed God could deliver them from prison before it crumbled to the earth, and the brother of Jared believed Mount Zerin could be moved by priesthood power before it was removed.

Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Moroni continues, we "may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith" (Ether 12:9). If we will believe it, and begin to act upon that belief, we may enjoy the gift of hope in things we have not yet seen-- rightly called a gift because it is neither earned nor deserved, but given by the grace of God as gift that we may have joy (see 2 Nephi 2:25).

We may have hope to live with God and our eternal families. We may have hope for a stronger testimony of a gospel principle. We may have hope for a better relationship with a loved one or a better job to provide for our families and the poor among us. We may have hope to endure a trial or to accomplish a great task. Because of the Atonement, we can have hope in all things if we will first have faith in its possibility.

Bishop Edgley cautioned:

Our hope can become blurred as we live in troubled times. We live in a world today of isms-- agnosticism, secularism, atheism, pessimism, and other isms... We face challenges both economically and spiritually... Perhaps most alarming is a retreat toward a godless society as more people are moving away from faith in Deity and the establishment of basic moral values...

He concludes:

Hope is a most powerful influence in our lives. Yes indeed, we do live in a troubled and challenging world. But we live in one of the greatest periods of time in the history of the entire world... We have every reason to be optimistic and full of hope-- hope for this life, hope for our children, and hope for the eternities to come... 

Our opportunity is not only to move forward with gratitude, faith, and hope; ours is also the opportunity to be carriers of optimism and faith and to spread the hope of the gospel throughout the world. After all, that is what Jesus died for. We can and we do move forward with great faith and assurances.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is real. Because of His Atonement, each of us can have the heavenly gift of great hope amid uncertainty as we have faith in Christ-- faith that he is who he says he is, and that he can do what he says he can do. We can hope for the light at the end of a tunnel that we cannot yet see; we can hope for the glory of God we cannot yet imagine.

What will you hope for today?